To anyone familiar with eating out in beautiful Bath, Michel Lemoine needs no introduction. His track record includes working with the Roux brothers, London’s Bibendum, Bristol’s Glass Boat and his own creation in Bath, the No 5, before focusing all his passion for great quality bistro cuisine on La Barrique.
We were in town to see the ground breaking production of King Lear and, being new to Bath, we were looking for somewhere handy to eat. We found ourselves outside La Barrique only fifty yards from the Theatre Royal. Though the exterior looks unprepossessing, a quick look inside and the promise of outdoor seating in a garden seduced us. The other reason we decided to eat there were the Petits Plats listed on the menu. We thought it to be ideal for theatre goers, whether it be for an evening performance or a matinee. As we walked in I heard the unmistakable sound of a Frenchman whose English is perfect, but his accent Français untamed, despite 32 years in England.
Needless to say, on a day where temperatures stood at 30 degrees, everyone chose to sit in Michel’s idyllic paved garden. We sat in the shade under a giant parasols, sheltered by an ancient ivy-clad stone wall.
The Petits Plats have become Michel’s signature dishes. The idea that small is beautiful comes into its own here. It came about from the very popular wine tasting evenings in Bath for which Michel created small dishes to compliment different wines. Michel told me that many theatre goers come for a couple of these dishes each before the performance and return after the show for a dessert and coffee or a glass of wine before making their way home. And this is not surprising, as the ambiance, both in the main restaurant at street level as well as in the garden is blissfully relaxing, the French would call it ‘manger en famille’. I was reminded of Marcel Frichot, the owner of Bistro Coco in Cheltenham, who, like many French restaurateurs, longed for the tasty, well-seasoned but unpretentious, everyday family dishes back in France.
Currently there are eighteen Petits Plats on the menu – fish and meat dishes, terrines, warm pork pie, ballotine of foie gras or a bourride of sea bream, among others. I picked the lemon marinated chicken with roasted cherry tomatoes, beautifully flavoured with herbs and the wild mushroom flan with a delicate chive cream sauce. My companion took the feuilleté de saumon (salmon in puff pastry) with creamed leeks and a saffron white wine sauce, and on recommendation, Michel’s speciality of a caramelized red onions and goat’s cheese tatin garnished with sweet potato.
We also ordered a portion of chips, as we often do in our food reviews – how the humble chip is cooked is always a good indicator. Here they came twice cooked, crispy on the outside but melting on the inside. Delicious. Though the Petits Plats, as Michel pointed out to me, are small, exactly as described, they make a very tasty meal. It is the perfect example that if you have quality you don’t need large quantities.
There is a good choice of cocktails, Champagne, beers and ciders, soft drinks, liqueurs and spirits, but predictably the longest list is reserved for mainly French wines. All wines are available by the glass, just right if you don’t want to suffer from blurred vision during the theatre performances.
Michel Lemoine’s La Barrique closes for the afternoon after lunch at 2.30pm but reopens at 5.30, so there is plenty of time to eat without rushing before popping down to the theatre for an evening performance. After the show you can put in your last order at 10pm on weekdays and at 10.30pm on Friday and Saturdays (closed on Sundays). – Astrid Burchardt August 2013
Weekday lunch – two Petit Plats plus a side dish for £9.95 or dinner for two about £35 plus drinks. N.B. Prices may have changed since this review was written, please check for current prices.
La Barrique, 31 Barton Street, Bath, BA1 1HG Tel. 01225 463861 http://www.bistrolabarrique.co.uk